Preface for Gun Control and Gun Rights: A Reader & Guide

Few issues generate as much emotion and passion as gun control and gun rights. As with other issues where the emotional stakes are high (e.g., abortion and affirmative action), the arguments and judgments we make about guns often occur in a fog of rhetorical fallacies and misinformation.

Discussions about guns usually follow one of two courses. Dialogues among persons who share similar views—whether pro-rights or pro-control—tend to be smug, unchallenging events in which, rather than think critically about their own beliefs, many people are content to smear the other side with ad hominem labels such "gun nuts" or "gun phobes." Discussions about guns with persons of opposite views quickly turn into debates, often heated ones, in which the participants are much more concerned with persuasion than with listening to, and perhaps learning from, the other side.

Even most academic literature regarding firearms policy is one-sided "advocacy" scholarship. While partisan literature is common in other areas, what is striking about the gun debate is that many scholars have failed even to attempt a balanced analysis of the issues.

"Balance" is what makes this book unique. Balance was our goal from day one. We think we achieved it, not because we're any wiser or less biased than other scholars in the area but because we compiled it together. We are in one sense an unlikely trio of co-authors. Kopel and Denning are strong supporters of gun rights. McClurg is an equally fervent supporter of gun control. Each of us has written extensively about guns, clearly staking out his position. Had any one of us attempted to write this book, it is doubtful he could have achieved true evenhandedness despite his best-faith efforts. Like everyone else involved in the debate, we are colored by our own values and beliefs.

We learned this lesson time and again during the writing process. Sending or receiving a chapter draft would set off a flurry of e-mailed additions, deletions, and alterations as we all worked hard at keeping one another honest. Sometimes a chapter would zip back and forth among the three of us several times in a single day. While it was frustrating at times to watch a sentence be rewritten ten times until everyone was satisfied with it, the tension in our opposing views generated intense creative energy. This energy helped us shape a firearms policy textbook that we believe is not only balanced but fresh, exciting, and stimulating. We hope you enjoy teaching and learning from this book as much as we enjoyed working on it.

Format and Teaching Tips

This text is designed to be user-friendly for both teachers and students. Because the book is intended for use in both law school and undergraduate courses, we took great care to ensure that legal principles are explained lucidly, in terms understandable by laypersons.

The book has six chapters. Each chapter addresses a broad issue in the gun control debate. Chapter 1 analyzes the benefits of guns to individuals and society; Chapter 2 assesses the costs of guns. We put these chapters first because of our belief that people's views about gun control ultimately are grounded in their subjective weighing of the relative costs and benefits of firearms to individuals and society. Chapter 3 traces the early historical development of a right to bear arms in organized societies, providing a foundation for analyzing the three principal philosophical justifications offered in support of such a right: self-defense, defense against invasion, and defense against tyranny. Chapter 4 examines the controversial and misunderstood Second Amendment and similar state constitutional provisions and analyzes the extent to which legal restrictions on guns are or are not constitutional. Chapter 5 examines the disparate effects that guns and gun violence have on persons of different races, sexes, classes, and cultures. Chapter 6 addresses an issue that, while relatively new in the gun control debate, has generated intense controversy and attention: attempts to use our system of civil tort law—or "personal injury" law—to seek redress for victims of firearms violence and, ultimately, to change the course of firearms policy in the United States. This chapter is a fitting one with which to close the book because it presents for consideration many of the specific modern proposals sought by gun control advocates for regulating guns, such as changes in firearm design and in the distribution and marketing practices of gun manufacturers.

Each chapter consists of a series of excerpts from academic articles (and, in some chapters, judicial opinions), followed by extensive "Discussion Notes." The notes are designed to force students on both sides of the debate to go beyond their affective, gut reactions and to confront and reason through their own biases. We purposefully called them "Discussion Notes" rather than "Questions" or just "Notes." The issues of gun control and gun rights provide rich fodder for spirited classroom debate, and we encourage teachers to take advantage of this built-in benefit of the subject matter. A large body of educational research shows that active learning is more effective than passive learning. Moreover, only through open, reasoned, and informed exchange can we hope to make progress in a policy area so fraught with intransigent disagreement.

Whenever possible, excerpts were selected and set up to form a point-counterpoint regarding specific issues: that is, a "pro-control" viewpoint is followed immediately by a "pro-rights" viewpoint or vice versa. The goal of this format is to compel students to consider simultaneously reasoned arguments on both sides of an issue. The Discussion Notes frequently follow a similar point-counterpoint pattern.

A fundamental lesson learned from teaching is that students think better about a topic when they know exactly what it is they're supposed to be thinking about. In this vein, rather than ask broad questions such as "What do you think about the excerpt you just read?" we have tried to make each note sufficiently complete and self-contained to enable students to focus on and think through the specific issue raised.

Several of the Discussion Notes include classroom exercises of various types. We highly recommend that teachers make use of them. Exercises are valuable because they facilitate the inclusion of all students in classroom dialogues. Everyone has opinions on the issues of gun control and gun rights. Many students, however, are reticent about expressing their opinions openly in class, particularly if a few strong personalities tend to dominate the discussion. The exercises provide a tool for getting the entire class involved.

The Discussion Notes are quite extensive, so it might be helpful for teachers to study them in advance and select particular notes or exercises they want students to focus on in reading their assignments and preparing for class discussion.

This book is designed so that it can be used as either a supplemental reader in courses related to criminal justice, social or legislative policy or constitutional law, or as a primary textbook in courses devoted specifically to firearms policy, firearms violence or the Second Amendment. Coverage of the material can be adjusted to fit the needs of the instructor and the course by placing either greater or lesser emphasis on the Discussion Notes and exercises therein. As an example, an instructor teaching a criminal justice course who wants to devote only an hour of class time to discussing the constitutional right to bear arms could assign chapter 3 in its entirety and select a couple of key issues to focus on. In contrast, an instructor teaching a course in firearms policy could easily fill an hour (or more) of class time by assigning the exercise in Discussion Note 7, page 212, which directs students to redraft the Second Amendment as they think it should have been written originally and come to class prepared to defend their positions.

We have tried to provide reliable documentation for the many statistics and other facts referred to in this book. Some citations are to Web links that may have changed or may no longer be active.

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